A former auto repair shop on Bel Air's North Main Street could be the site of a microbrewery and restaurant and a key for development on the north side of town, according to the business owner.

"We're really early in the process," Phillip Rhudy, the owner and brewmaster for the Independent Brewing Co., said Monday.

Signs in the window, however, announce the brewery will be coming in late fall or early winter.

Rhudy, a 49-year-old Fallston resident, has been a home brewer of beer for about 25 years. He is a former sales manager for a boating equipment firm and remains a consultant in the marine industry.


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"It was time to look at doing something different," he said of the career change.

Rhudy said he has not yet applied to the Town of Bel Air for permits, but he and his partners recently signed a lease for the property at 418 N. Main St., which was previously occupied by M&J Complete Auto Care before the business was moved to a new building on Ellendale Street.

Rhudy and his partners have started the process of establishing the business, which he said comes with about $600,000 in startup costs, despite the current strict limitations on new development because of state, county and municipal concerns over Bel Air's water supply.

The Harford County Health Department and the Maryland Department of the Environment have curtailed the town's ability to issue building and subdivision permits while government officials and the operators of the Maryland American Water Company, which supplies water to Bel Air residents, work through water supply issues.

Projects only qualify for a building permit as long as they do not increase demand on the water system.

Rhudy said the microbrewery will use much more water than the auto shop, but "I have enough confidence in a swift resolution that we're going ahead and moving forward."

Bel Air Town Administrator Jim Fielder said Monday that town officials are "working cooperatively" with the Harford County government, the county health department, MDE and Maryland American.

"It's a complex issue, and it takes some time to resolve," Fielder said.

He said there is "nothing specific in terms of actual steps to move forward" yet.

Fielder said town officials "look forward to" receiving applications from Independent Brewing.

"It could be a good project for the town, needless to say," he noted.

Rhudy's main partner is Harry O'Neill, founder and president of Beacon Environmental Services Inc., of Forest Hill. They have six other investors, he said.

Rhudy said he did not have the other investors' permission to release their names, but he noted they are local business people.

The partners have sought additional funding from a bank loan and through the online "crowdfunding" site Kickstarter.

"Basically, it's a small project," he explained. "It's going to be a combination of a 10-barrel brewery and a small restaurant."

Rhudy said 10 barrels per batch of beer would be produced at the brewery.